Adding Insult to Misery: A Timeline of Black Massacres and the Reparations that Never Came
This week's 100-year recognition of the Tulsa Race Massacre offers a glimpse into America's sordid history of widespread massacres against Black citizens.
This week the nation paused to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre that ravaged the independent Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 31-June 1, 1921. The few remaining survivors, as well as celebrities, activists, historians and even the president, paid homage to the legacy of Black Wall Street, speaking of America’s need to atone for this heinous crime against fellow American citizens and assessing a path forward advocating for the kind of equity and healing necessary to prevent this type of atrocity from ever again happening on U.S. soil.
The publicity around the centennial recognition of the Tulsa Race Massacre, an event that for all intent and purpose has still been largely suppressed in the story of America, opened up discussion around other incidents of state-sponsored violence against Black Americans on a mass scale. The public-facing narrative of American violence against Black citizens has mostly been limited to a few major historical events: slavery, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement. Because of the magnitude of violence, subsequent movements and consequential figures to emerge from these periods, this country is not afforded the luxury of concealing the impact of that history. Still, the United States is culpable of inflicting injury upon Black citizens that extend far beyond those specific events, and it is well past time for those conversations to be addressed in our public discourse.
It is even further past time for appropriate restitution to be extended to the descendants of those crimes against humanity.
And while politicians at the federal level continue to discuss [or deflect from] forming commissions to study the psychological, social and material impact of the chattel slavery America [kinda] owns up to, it is of value to pivot to discussing the various incidents of violence that preceded and followed the emancipation of enslaved people.
Recently, a map image of U.S. Black massacres throughout the past 200+ years started to make the rounds on social media as dialogue around Tulsa gained more traction. The following is a list of those massacres and historical briefings of what transpired.
New York (1863): What happened? The New York Draft Riots occurred in July 1863, when the anger of working-class New Yorkers over a new federal draft law during the Civil War sparked five days of some of the bloodiest and most destructive rioting in U.S. history. Hundreds of people were killed, many more seriously injured, and African Americans were often the target of the rioters’ violence. h/t history.com
New Orleans (1866): What happened? The New Orleans Massacre (also known as the New Orleans Riot) occurred when white residents attacked Black marchers gathered outside the Mechanics Institute, where the reconvened Louisiana Constitutional Convention met in response to the state legislature enacting Black Codes and limiting suffrage. h/t https://www.zinnedproject.org/
Memphis (1866): What happened? The “riot” started after an alarm went out that African American soldiers from Fort Pickering, on the south boundary of downtown Memphis, had killed several policemen who tried to arrest a black soldier. In response to the reports, Union General George Stoneman disarmed the soldiers and locked them in their barracks, leaving nearby freedmen’s settlements vulnerable to the white mobs that soon attacked women, children, and defenseless men, as well as the northern missionaries who served as ministers and teachers for the freedmen. 46 Black people died, 75 persons were injured, 100 people were robbed, five women were raped, 91 homes were burned, four churches and eight schools were burned and destroyed, and $17,000 in federal property was destroyed. h/t https://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/
Camilla, Georgia (1868): What happened? The Camilla Massacre was aftermath of a political rally in Mitchell County, Georgia, that ended with numerous participants killed and wounded in the town courthouse square. Following the Georgia Constitution of 1868, thirty-three African American men, all Republicans and often called the Original 33, were elected to the Georgia State Assembly, during the early years of Reconstruction. They were some of the first African American state legislators in the United States. After the election, the white Democratic majority in the legislature conspired to remove all Black and mixed-race members from the Assembly. h/t blackpast.org
Opelousas, Louisiana (1868): What happened? In September 1868, a dispute over a column published in an Opelousas, Louisiana partisan newspaper provoked one of the bloodiest incidents of racial violence in the Reconstruction era. The attackers' goal: to reverse dramatic political gains made by Black citizens after the Civil War, intimidate them from exercising their newly found rights and restore the racial hierarchy of the slavery era. h/t history.com
St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana (1868): What happened? Following the Civil War, as freedmen gained the right to vote, white Democrats of the St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana (and throughout the South) were afraid of losing their majority and thus their power to thwart Reconstruction efforts. In late October of 1868, armed groups of white men mobilized to suppress the recently emancipated voters in the hopes of regaining their way of life turned upside down by the Civil War and Reconstruction. It was just days before the presidential election between Ulysses S. Grant and Horatio Seymour, which would decide the fate of Reconstruction in the South. h/t Zinn Education Project
Colfax, Louisiana (1873): What happened? The Colfax Massacre of 1873, also known as the Colfax Riot, was the deadliest incident of racial and political violence during the Reconstruction era, claiming the lives of at least seventy and perhaps as many as 150 men. Nearly all of the victims were African American. The confrontation elevated the standing of white supremacist organizations in Louisiana and the South. The Colfax Massacre is remembered as a signal event in the establishment of the Jim Crow system, for it led to United States v. Cruikshank (1875), a Supreme Court decision that disallowed the federal prosecution of racially motivated crimes. h/t 64parishes.org
Eufaula, Alabama (1874): What happened? During the Civil War, Eufaula, Alabama, was at once a Confederate stronghold, the commercial center of Barbour County, and home to more Black people than white. After Emancipation, ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteed voting rights for Black men. This empowered Barbour County’s new Black electorate to end white supremacist officials’ control over the county. In 1870, Black voters helped elect Elias Keils, a white candidate who supported the aims of Reconstruction, to the position of City Court Judge. Four years later, when Keils ran for re-election, local white residents determined to regain political dominance in the county used terror and intimidation to suppress Black votes, ultimately waging a deadly massacre that left dozens of Black people dead. h/t Equal Justice Initiative
Vicksburg, Mississippi (1874): What happened? On December 7, 1874, white mobs attacked and killed dozens of Black citizens of Vicksburg, Mississippi, who had organized a political meeting in support of a duly elected Black sheriff, who had been improperly removed from office. h/t Equal Justice Initiative
Clinton, Mississippi (1875): What happened? A riot-turned-massacre in Clinton, Mississippi, in 1875 was one of the bloodiest episodes of racial violence and lynchings in state history and functioned as the beginning of the end of Reconstruction in the state. The Clinton Massacre of 1875 was the inaugural event to the infamous Mississippi Plan devised by white Democrats to “redeem” the state from the political control of newly enfranchised freedmen and the Republican Party during the 1875 election. It also served as the impetus for the issuance of Pres. Ulysses S. Grant’s controversial policy of federal nonintervention concerning matters of race in southern states, which eventually paved the way for the rise of Jim Crow laws and segregation. h/t Mississippi Encyclopedia
Thibodaux, Louisiana (1887): What happened? On November 23, 1887, a mass shooting of African-American farm workers in Louisiana left some 60 dead. Bodies were dumped in unmarked graves while the white press cheered a victory against a fledgling black union. It was one of the bloodiest days in United States labor history, and while statues went up and public places were named for some of those involved, there is no marker of the Thibodaux Massacre. h/t Smithsonian Magazine
Atlanta (1906): What happened? During the Atlanta race riot that occurred September 22-24, 1906, white mobs killed dozens of Black Georgians, wounded scores of others, and inflicted considerable property damage. Local newspaper reports of alleged assaults by Black men on white women were the catalyst for the riot, but a number of underlying causes lay behind the outbreak of the mob violence. h/t New Georgia Encyclopedia
Springfield, Illinois (1908): What happened? The Springfield Massacre (traditionally called the Springfield race riot of 1908) was committed against African Americans by a mob of about 5,000 white people in Springfield, Illinois, between August 14–16, 1908; reports that a black man had sexually assaulted a white woman, a white mob wanted to take a recently arrested suspect from the city jail and kill him. They also wanted Joe James, an out-of-town black who was accused of killing a white railroad engineer, Clergy Ballard, a month earlier. h/t Zinn Education Project, Library at Northern Illinois University
Slocum, Texas (1910): What happened? The Slocum Massacre occurred on July 29, 1910 in Slocum, Texas, an unincorporated community in southeast Anderson County. The city used to be home to a thriving African American community with several businesses and farms owned by Black residents. Leading up to the massacre, a lynching of a Black man in nearby Cherokee County sparked racial tensions in the Slocum area. White rumors circulated that Black residents had been meeting in Slocum to plan an armed rebellion. Racial tensions only intensified when a white man reportedly sought to collect a disputed debt from a well-respected Black farmer named Abe Wilson and when a road construction foreman put an African American in charge of soliciting aid for road improvements. A confrontation erupted, enraging Jim Spurger, a local white farmer, who became the primary agitator of the conflict that led to the massacre. Many newspapers and eyewitness accounts reported that Spurger instigated the events by claiming that Blacks had threatened him. h/t blackpast.org
East St. Louis (1917): What happened? On July 1, 1917, a rumor spread claiming that a white man had been killed by a Black man, and tensions boiled over. The next day, the city of East St. Louis exploded in the worst racial rioting the country had ever seen. Most of the violence -- drive-by shootings, beatings, and arson -- targeted the African American community. The riots raged for nearly a week, leaving nine whites and hundreds of African Americans dead, and property damage estimated at close to $400,000. More than six thousand Black citizens, fearing for their lives, fled the city. h/t PBS.org
Chicago (1919): What happened? On Sunday, July 27, 1919, thousands of Chicagoans sought relief from the brutal heat on the shores of Lake Michigan. Among them was Eugene Williams, a seventeen-year-old African American. When he and his friends inadvertently drifted across an invisible line that divided the waters by race, a group of whites, insulted by such an act, began throwing stones at them, one of which struck Williams, causing him to drown. In the racial powder keg that was Chicago, his murder was the spark that ignited it during what became the Red Summer of 1919. h/t Chicago History Museum
Washington, D.C. (1919): What happened? On Saturday, July 19, 1919 a major “race riot” broke out across Washington, D.C. as white mobs attacked the African American community and African American soldiers returning from WWI. The mob was retaliating against an alleged assault of a white woman, Elsie Stephnick, by a Black man, Charles Ralls. h/t Zinn Education Project
Ocoee, Florida (1920): What happened? The Ocoee Massacre, which occurred in the town of Ocoee, Florida on November 2-3, 1920, was the largest election-related massacre in the 20th Century. Approximately 50 Blacks and two whites died in the violence and the entire Black community of Ocoee was forced to flee the town. h/t blackpast.org
Tulsa, Oklahoma (1921): What happened? On May 30, 1921, Dick Rowland, a young African American shoe shiner, was accused of assaulting a white elevator operator named Sarah Page in the elevator of a building in downtown Tulsa. The next day the Tulsa Tribune printed a story saying that Rowland had tried to rape Page, with an accompanying editorial stating that a lynching was planned for that night. That evening mobs of both African Americans and whites descended on the courthouse where Rowland was being held. When a confrontation between an armed African American man, there to protect Rowland, and a white protester resulted in the death of the latter, the white mob was incensed, and the Tulsa massacre was thus ignited. h/t brittanica.com
Rosewood, Florida (1923): What happened? The Rosewood Massacre was an attack on the predominantly African American town of Rosewood, Florida, in 1923 by large groups of white aggressors. The town was entirely destroyed by the end of the violence, and the residents were driven out permanently. The story was mostly forgotten until the 1980s, when it was revived and brought to public attention. h/t history.com
Detroit (1943): What happened? The Detroit Riot of 1943 lasted only about 24 hours from 10:30 on June 20 to 11:00 p.m. on June 21; nonetheless it was considered one of the worst riots during the World War II era. Several contributing factors revolved around police brutality, and the sudden influx of Black migrants from the south into the city, lured by the promise of jobs in defense plants. The migrants faced an acute housing shortage which many thought would be reduced by the construction of public housing. However the construction of public housing for Blacks in predominately white neighborhoods often created racial tension. h/t blackpast.org
Philadelphia (1985): What happened? On May 13, 1985, the City of Philadelphia bombed its own citizens. Officials used a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter to drop military-grade plastic explosive from a helicopter onto a rowhouse on Osage Avenue, starting a fire that killed six adults and five children. The house was headquarters and home to members of the Black liberation group MOVE. After the bombing, the city infamously “let the fire burn” until it destroyed 61 adjacent homes over three city blocks. h/t The Philadelphia Inquirer
Charleston, South Carolina (2015): What happened? On the evening of June 17, 2015, a mass shooter took the lives of nine African American people at a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The massacre at a historic black church deeply shook a nation already jaded by frequent gun violence and heralded the return of violent white nationalism in America. Among the victims was the activist and state senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church's senior pastor. Carrying on Emanuel AME's legacy as a center of civil rights organizing, Pinckney was a vocal advocate for police accountability who had made national headlines for his response to the murder of Walter Scott by a police officer in North Charleston the previous April. The shooter, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, joined Pinckney and members of his congregation for a Bible study session on the night of June 17, before drawing a gun, telling the others that African Americans were "taking over the country," and opening fire. According to one survivor, Roof tried to shoot himself but had run out of ammunition and fled instead. He was arrested the following morning in North Carolina and, after an investigation and trial that brought to light his radicalization and intense white supremacist beliefs, sentenced to death. h/t history.com
America has a volatile history of slaughtering Black people en masse in the name of political expediency or false accusations or simply to uphold a legacy of oppression, and then naming these events “riots” as if the death toll and destruction are equal on both sides. The aforementioned incidents do not take into consideration isolated incidents of state-sanctioned violence, nor does it considers the systemic violence that everyday inequity levies upon Black people.
But what is most appalling is America’s hesitancy or flat-out unwillingness to offer redress for centuries of terror at the behest of its white citizens, local governments and federal government. In a land that prints money in the blink of an eye and renders resources to countries in need at the speed of light, Black people are constantly reminded of how our trauma is not prioritized.
There is no dollar amount that can truly rectify generations of violence, but gotdamn America, you can start somewhere…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Donney Rose is a Writer, Educator, Organizer and Chief Content Editor at The North Star